Monday, September 5, 2011

Beginning of our DJ School- SPIN ROCINHA & Rocinha Media School

For over 10 years, I have had people ask me to teach them to dj. I think that everyone who is a dj has had friends ask them to teach them. Dj schools are rare and most dj’s are self taught. It starts out as a love for music, then getting some tables in your bedroom and practicing. Depending on your skills and desire, some venture out into playing in bars or clubs. Almost all of us at one time has done the family party or wedding. Putting your time in on the decks has its perks. For me it was being able to play in front of a crowd and gain experience. I had the opportunity to play a lot outside of Brazil too, which was great. I played mostly Brazilian parties and funk music was my love. My home for about 8 years was San Francisco so I had the opportunity to play in many clubs there. I will never forget the “Underground”, “Pink” and “el Rio” as some of my home clubs.

So, out of all of this, about 2 years ago I decided that I wanted to make something special here in Rocinha. There were many people in the favela that wanted me to start a English school but for me, I would rather start something that is my passion. There are already English schools here. I started asking people around the community if they were interested. Many showed interest, then I decided to research about how I was to do this. I had told many people from facebook my idea. Everybody said go for it.

About 5 months ago a Dj Phi Pham, from New York contacted me about the dj school and said they wanted to be a part. I told them about my contacts with dj’s here and our plan to have free classes. But I needed help with equipment. Electronics here are very expensive, probably close to triple what the costs are in the United States.

During this same time many more people were interested in this project. Harry Daley a dj from Canada, had contacted me after reading my blog and I put him in contact with Phi in New York. After a few months Harry took a trip to New York to meet Phi and talk about their project called “Building Beats”. Their idea is to help fund dj/music projects in poor areas.

I had some equipment but had to find a way to get more. If we are going to have a good school, we need enough equipment for people to practice on. Ryan, a friend of mine from San Diego put me in contact with a woman who was interested in projects going on here in the favela. I met Lea Rekow one day while showing her Tio Lino’s art school. After seeing the art school, I told her about my idea of making a dj school. She became interested and we started meeting and talking about organizing how we would do this.

She has much experience in doing this kind of thing. Her experience covers many areas including film making and curating large art shows in New York. We set the plan in motion. My job was to find a place to have the classes, find the students, advertise in the favela, buy the notebooks, the white board and host Ryan and Harry for a month. They both brought dj equipment down with them. Lea had friends who donated equipment, website hosting and development. We have both put in a lot of time to get this project off the ground.

We had our open house on August 1st and started the classes on August 15th. We have classes every Monday and Wednesday for now. Eventually we will expand when we find a new space. For now, we are running the school out of my living room. This is just temporary until we secure a good location. The classes run for about 90 minutes. We have nine students that include 6 guys and 3 women. The ages of the students are from 13 up to 34 years old. I absolutely love this project as it is off to a great start and already we are getting interest from other residents who want to take part in the next set of classes.

In order to expand we are always looking for new/used equipment. Lea handles all monetary donations. So, if you have interest to help us expand the program you can contact Lea at

Below is a video on youtube of our Open House that happened on August 1st, 2011
Please cut and paste into your browser as I have no idea through this blog how to make a link..

Kay Fochtmann- Germany - Living in Rocinha

- Can you tell me your name, where you are from?
My name is Kay Fochtmann and I am from Leipzig, Germany

- Why did you come to Brasil?
I came to Brazil because I am a geography student of the University of Leipzig writing his final thesis about Favela-Tourism. I have been to Brazil 9 years ago and I just fell in love with the country and its people and ever since I wanted to come back and stay a little longer, get to know a Brazil, a Rio, far from the tourist spots.

- When you arrived where did you live?
I lived in Rua Farani, Botafogo, for a month in a small apartment which I shared with another friend from Germany.

- How did you find out about favelas?
Well, I first saw Favelas during my trip to Brazil in 2002. I knew they existed because I read a lot of travel-guides to prepare myself for the trip but when I actually saw them and especially how many there are I was still overwhelmed and somehow fascinated of the structure / architecture and how people can survive. After I returned to Germany I read some books and a lot of articles and of course, also my geography-studies dealt with Favelas.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?
My actual plan was to do an internship in a Favela and to hand out questionnaires to the tourists taking a Favela-tour because I was interested in their motivation and the image they have of a Favela before they actually saw one. So I wrote to a lot of Rio’s Favela-Tour-Guides and finally you were so kind to give me the opportunity to be a part of your tours and you even invited me to actually live in Rocinha, a thought that actually never crossed my mind. My plan was to meet the guide at the pick-up-point, hand out the questionnaires, join the tours and leave when the tour is over. I must admit I really had to think about your proposal since I read and heard a lot of bad things about Favelas and since every guide-book I know strongly recommends Rio-visitors not to enter any Favela without a guide, let alone to live there. My decision to move in was based on the emails we exchanged and because I found it only fair to live in the Favela, experience the same conditions – the good and the bad ones – if I want to write about that place and its people! And as stupid as it sounds I won’t deny that I was also driven by a tiny bit of thirst for adventure and regarded that as a once-in-a-lifetime-thing. (Luckily now I can say that I hopefully will come back soon.)

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?
Thanks to the new media you access a lot of information really easily and find what you are looking for. If it wasn’t for the internet I would have never thought about entering a Favela and doing my project. I knew that it’s a slum, that there are different districts within a Favela, some poorer, some better off. I read about horrible sanitation, infrastructure and the influence of the drug-traffickers. Well, let’s say there is a lot of information you can find about how bad the situation is but rather less about the good stuff, especially the people and the miracle. But then again, if you really look for that kind of news you can find them but you need to dig a lot deeper.

- Since living here, have your impressions of favelas changed much?
Sure. And I am very glad about it as it wouldn’t have changed didn’t I actually live there for three months.

- What do you like about living in the favela?
There were so many things I liked and it’s all about the people. The way they treat each other, the way they help one another. Of course these social interactions are born out of necessity but they do work. People share things: the owner of one apartment has a TV, everybody comes in to watch TV, one of the guests has washing machine, so he can offer the people to wash their clothes, others have a computer and internet access - people share, people help each other. People know each other. I was out of water for several days and I wanted to buy some water down at the little market and one of the workers just offered me to use his shower and I rarely knew him. I was overwhelmed. I liked that there is a big sense of community, that you are respected. And I, too, respect the people living under the conditions they live in and knowing how to survive with dignity and pride. I liked learning about all the things that matter, all the knots that are holding this community together. That is just something you can read about but never really understand unless you didn’t experience it at first hand. Living in Rocinha felt like two things: living in a state within a state and on the other hand living in a small village where everybody knows his neighbor.

- What don’t you like?
As there are many things I liked about the Favela, there are many things I didn’t like. Teen pregnancy is one of them. And the fact that it seems completely normal to guys in their twenties+ to start flirting with 12-year-old girls. And what disturbed me most is the fact that the girls seem to like it. I wanted to blame the men but it’s not that easy. It is hard as there is a lack of role models for guys and girls in the Favelas. It seems like most young girls want to be models and most young guys want to be in the soccer-stars or be a kingpin in drug-trade when they are grown-ups. So, beauty seems to be a much more important issue than education to a lot of girls and for older guys those girls are an easy target as they feed their appetite for recognition. Of course another disturbing thing is the presence of guns, especially in the hand of teenagers. As I never had any problems with those kinds of guys it is still certain that a place filled with guns is a dangerous one. There is a lot more to write but in case someone wants to know something, feel free to contact me via email.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?
Besides the things that come into your mind at first like solving the garbage-problem, teach the kids self-respect and so on, I think one important thing would be to make Favelas and their inhabitants more visible to Brazil’s middle- and upper class. Visible in the context of how life is really like for its people and that not everybody chose to live under those conditions and that not everybody is a poor, lazy bum or a drug-lord. I met people who were working 5 (five!!) jobs to make ends meet, who get up at 6 in the morning and work til 3 at night! It is such a contradiction that, especially in Rio, you can see Favelas from every part of town and so little is known about the lives of the people living there, especially strange because every middle- and upper-class family has a housekeeper who is most likely from a Favela. So there are lots of knots where those different classes connect and there is still no further interest in trying to tear down prejudices. They might rather believe the news than believe the words of the woman who takes care of their children every day. How sad is that?

- Has your experience been worthwhile?
Absolutely! I made a lot of dear friends and learned so much about living in a Favela. Knowledge which can only be gained through experience.

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?
Well, in case he/she still has doubts whether to do it or not: DO IT, GO!!!
Otherwise: be open, smile, don’t take yourself too seriously – and you will learn to be happier with less.

- Would you come back to live here again?
No doubt.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?
Not really, I think I said everything that came into my mind. I mean, there really is a book to write but for now I will leave it at that. Anyone got further questions: shot!

Thanks a lot for the interview, Zezinho

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A very Special Visitor

Berit Ollestad ccontacted me over a year ago to tell me that she had been to the favela before but wanted to return. She and her husband had made some friends here in Rocinha and wanted to return to check up on them and bring some donations to the families. She had contacted me and decided to stay in the favela for about a week. Her stay consisted of visiting her friends and making new ones. I introduced her to Tio Lino's Mundo de Arte (Art School) and to a daycare that needed much help. I think she enjoyed her stay and has already booked her ticket to return in October. I look forwards to seeing her again. Here is a interview that I made with her about Brazil, Rocinha and her work.

- Tell me a little about yourself, Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Berit Ollestad and I currently live in Morristown, New Jersey and I was born and raised in Seattle,Wa. I met my husband Luis in Seattle while working in the same industry. Luis is originally from Lisbon, Portugal. My husband's career has taken us to Brazil, Miami, Puerto Rico, Chicago and most recently NJ. We have a four year old named Annika and a five year old named Mateo.

I enjoy getting involved in humanitarian efforts on local, national & international levels. My latest project that I take a lot of pride in was coordinating a relief effort for the people of Alabama that were affected by the violent storms (tornadoes) back in April. I managed to get UPS to donate a semi-truck to my town, for us to fill it with supplies such as food, cleaning supplies, diapers, etc. for the victims.

- When did you first come to Brasil?

I first visited Brazil in September of 2002 for a 'house hunting" trip thru my husband's work.

- Why Brasil?

When I first met my husband, I knew he always wanted to experience working abroad. It wasn't 'if' the opportunity presented itself; it was when and where it was going to be. I still remember when he came home and said "they wanted him to accept a 2 year assignment in Brazil". My first thought was "how am I ever going to tell my family that I was moving half way around the world?!?" Back when we moved to Brazil in 2002, the country was really starting to emerge as a 'up and comer' on the world stage. The exchange rate back then was four to one. Now I can hardly believe it, the currencies are almost the same. It has been fun to see Brazil emerge into a strong country that continues to gain more and more of a presence on the world stage.

- When you arrived where did you live?

Like most 'Americans' when I used to think of Brazil, ideas of beautiful people, gorgeous beaches, hot & steamy climate, Carnival and extreme poverty were the first things to enter my mind. I thought the entire country was much like the Northeastern regions and the jungles of the Amazon.

The city we lived in couldn't have been more different. We were living in Curitiba, which is in the South and about an hour away from Sao Paulo by air. Not only was it cold in the winter but many of the people looked just like me. They were fair skinned with light colored hair/eyes etc. Most of the original settlers to this region of Brazil were from Italy, Poland, Germany, etc. Carnival came and went with hardly a mention. But probably the biggest shocker was how the Brazilians living in Curitiba didn't fit the stereotype in the slightest, of the warm, friendly and gregarious nature that I had always associated with the Brazilian people. They were far more reserved and aloof and if I dare say at times could come off as down right rude.

- How did you find out or learn about favelas?

I remember very vividly the first time I ever saw a favela. I was flying into Rio and I saw them on the hillsides. I immediately asked my husband about them and that is when he explained what they were and he told me they were called 'favelas'. I was quite intrigued by the mystery that seemed to surround the favelas. Whenever I would try and ask people living in Brazil to explain to me the details of living in a favela, no one was willing to engage in a conversation with me. It was almost as though no one wanted to acknowledge that they existed. I kept hearing the same thing over and over; that I must NEVER enter a favela, especially God forbid By Myself!! This of course only deepened my curiosity about them. I knew at that moment, it would only be a matter of time before I entered one. But first I had to educate myself a little more before I did.

- Why did you decide to visit a favela?

As I mentioned above the mystique of what a favela was fascinated me and I wanted to see first hand what it was everyone was so fearful of. I spent time volunteering at a creche (pre-school) while I was living in Brazil. I soon discovered that many of the children at this creche lived in the various favelas located on the out-skirts of town. I could hardly believe that oftentimes you would have some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Brazil living side by side with favelas and the country's poorest of the poor.

I have always tried to live my life on the simple premise that "if you treat people how you would like to be treated and exhibit respect, then you can co-exist peacefully with one-another. I guess at some level I wanted to put this 'golden rule' to the test. Some people (actually many people) called me foolish but I really felt in my heart that the people living in the favelas had been given a bad rap and I wanted to go in and hopefully share my experience with my fellow foreign friends and other Brazilians; that you can't always believe everything you hear.

- Which favela did you visit?

I first visited a couple of the 'larger' favelas in Curitiba. Which by comparison to Rocinha, would have been considered a small neighborhood within Rocinha. Luis and I first went together on Easter and passed out the wrapped chocolate eggs to the children. Initially there was definitely skepticism on the part of the locals. But as the day wore on and they realized we were there on a 'good will' mission, the mood lightened. I visited Rocinha for the first time last September. We were going to a friend's birthday party and I had 5 suitcases that I needed to distribute. After asking around we soon found out about Rocinha and it's infamous reputation as being the largest and supposedly the most violent. Based on the fact we could walk to Rocinha from our hotel, it seemed like an obvious choice.

- Before coming here what did you know about favelas?

I really didn't know much about them except that they were very similar to what most people would call an urban slum. I always hesitate to use the word 'slum' when I'm talking about the favela, because it has such a negative connotation. Sometimes it can't be avoided though, when I'm trying to explain to others what a favela is. I knew they were heavily influenced by the drug traffickers and I assumed there was a tremendous amount of violence within the favela as well. When I first arrived into Brazil, I was made to believe that if I entered a favela, I may not make it out. But if I was fortunate enough to make it out, I most surely would be robbed of all my belongings.

- Can you explain about your experiences and the work you have done here?

I realized relatively quickly that a little goes a long way down in Brazil. Things that we don't give a second thought about; for example going out and buying for our children shoes or a box of color crayons are oftentimes out of reach for the average individual living in a favela. The prices of these items are so I inflated, it's ridiculous. So what started out by me sharing my experience with people back home in Seattle has grown exponentially. I went from taking one or sometimes two suitcases: to now taking five seventy pound suitcases once or twice a year. The majority of the items which include clothing, shoes, toys, books, toothbrushes,etc. are either donated to me by members of the community or I will go out and purchase items as well. Having a four and five year old doesn't hurt either to garner donations. I've now started involving my children by showing them photos and talking with them about "where and why mommy is taking all this stuff to the kids in Brazil". They will periodically give me toys they no longer play with and tell me "to give them to the kids in Brazil".

- Since visiting here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

Absolutely!! Instead of being a disconnected community that is full of suffering, like I initially thought, it is quite to the contrary. There is a real sense of community and plenty of laughter to be heard and smiles to be seen. everyone appears to be respectful of one another and their right to go about their daily business.

- What do you like about life in the favela?

Just because someone is at a lower income level, it doesn't necessarily mean that living in a favela is a bad thing. I have met many people that take pride in themselves and their homes. There is a certain level of joy that emulates from the local people. I have always appreciated how the Brazilian people can enjoy the simple pleasures in life. It has been my experience that nowhere in Brazil, more than in a favela will you find people looking at the glass as half full as opposed to half empty.

- What don’t you like about life in the favela?

Unfortunately Brazil seems to still be very much of a "class" society. Oftentimes whatever income level you are born into; you stay in. This also relates to opportunities or lack of opportunities that are available to you I also find it very dis-heartening how many young girls become pregnant, which limits their options even that much more.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

I would love to see equal opportunities for all Brazilians. This would include educational opportunities, proper housing, the influence of the drug trade being a thing of the past and families having more quality time with each-other as opposed to always working just to keep their head above water. This would also include males having a more influential role in their children's lives.

- Has your favela experience been worthwhile?

It has been on so many levels. It has given me a charitable outlet close to my heart to focus my energies on. It also reinforces the notion that just because someone may have limited financial resources, it doesn't mean that they can live a full-filling life.

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to come/visit here?

It's really quite simple, if you go down with a closed mind and you look for all the differences between your life and life in the favela; then you will find them. The only thing this will do is create a separation between you and the Brazilian people. But if you go and make an effort to see all the similarities between the two cultures, there will be too many to count. Now you have opened yourself up to experiencing a very special and unique culture that not many people are as fortunate to experience.

- Will you come back to visit here again?

I can't stay away!! I tell people that going down to Brazil is like my 'soul food'. The warm reception I feel when I return to Brazil from the Brazilian people is priceless to me. Even more so now then when I lived there, Brazil feels like home to me when I'm there.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?

The unique experience of 'living' in the favela for a brief moment was something I won't soon forget. In a very short period of time I felt embraced by the community and felt safer than I do in many parts of my own state ie.Newark, Trenton, Camden, etc. Thank You Zezinho for welcoming me into your home for a truly memorable and heart-warming experience.

- Please promote your website, blog and any other projects you would like the public to know about.

I am in the beginning stages of putting together my business 'With Love 4 Brazil'. I am starting to identify local artists down in Brazil that make hand made arts & crafts that they are looking to sell. It is my intent to feature these artists and their crafts on my newly created web-site (by the same name). Then use the proceeds to invest back into some of the projects that I'd like to become more involved in down in Rocinha. If anyone out there has any additional ideas to help me get this venture off the ground, I would welcome your feedback.

If anyone would like to read more about my work I would encourage you to do a search on the Internet by putting in my name and various articles are available to look at. The UPS event really put me on the map, but more importantly it high-lighted my work that I do in Brazil. I have also set up a blog that I hope to spend more time developing. Please take a look and let me know if there are any additional questions that you'd like me to answer. You can find it under Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience in the favelas of Brazil.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rocinha welcomes Graham for the 3rd time!

Graham has been coming and staying in Rocinha for many years after his first trip to Brazil in 2006. He is in university in Sydney Australia and doing studies in film making and Art. Welcome back to Rocinha, Graham and I hope it is even better than your last visit.

- Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Graham Burchett and I am from the city of Sydney, in Australia.

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I first came to Brasil in 2006 to explore the potential for cultural, artistic and creative exchange in Rio de Janeiro.

-When you arrived where did you live?

In the district of Saúde in Centro.

- How did you find out about favelas?

Rio de Janeiro and the favelas go hand-in-hand, and it's impossible not to hear about them when inquiring about Rio. Unfortunately, they are usually mentioned or portrayed in a negative light.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

While researching potential ways to get involved in creative exchange in Rio, I came across information about the Instituto Dois Irmãos, a non-profit organisation in Rocinha. As my interests are based on mutual exchange and collaboration, it was therefore extremely important to me that I would be able to experience the day-to-day life of the people I would be working with.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I tried to educate myself as best as possible about the reality of life in a favela. It's one thing to see how favelas are depicted in movies and the media, and quite another to read first hand accounts from residents and others who have spent time there. One thing that I didn't initially know about was the abundance of social programs and opportunities for outsiders to get involved in the community.

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

I went to the favela without any expectations. The reality I discovered was that of a strong, proud community that broke all the stereotypes and preconceived notions it has been branded with. In that regard my impressions have only changed for the better. 

- What do you like about living in the favela?

The people, the vibrancy, the sense of community. Rocinha is always breathing, there is a constant sense of liveliness. Plus in Rocinha you can find almost everything you need!

- What don’t you like?
There are big issues with sanitation and health that need urgent addressing. Also, it must be said that the gang looms large over the community. Care must be taken when working with media such as photography and video. The constant noise can be trying at times.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?
Methods of and education about rubbish disposal. It would go a long way to creating a healthier community.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?
Absolutely, my stays in the favela have been amongst the most enriching and worthwhile experiences I have had in my life to date. I have made many, many friends and been involved in some wonderful projects during my time there.

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?
Rocinha is an intense place and can be overwhelming, so it's important to research before you jump in and decide to stay there for a good period. Get in contact with NGO's and people like Zezinho to get first hand accounts of life in the favela. Ask lots of questions. Then, once you think you're ready to commit to staying, leave your expectations behind, go with the flow, and make the most out of your stay—get involved with the community!

- Would you come back to live here again?
Absolutely, Rocinha feels like my second home. I will be going back for my third stay and I hope there will be many more in the future.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?
Rocinha is a unique community. It is like a small city in itself, and has infrastructure and services that many other favelas lack. Despite this, there are are still issues of concern in Rocinha that are endemic to the favelas, such as education, health, sanitation, police invasions, water, and electricity amongst others. Rocinha is a place that is fast changing, and constantly growing, but it is still a low-income community. Rocinha's residents work hard to live a humble life and provide for their families. Despite living in such a developed favela, they often still face prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives simply for being favelados. With this in mind, approach living in a favela with humility and respect and in return the people will welcome you with open arms.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Hockey Story

Hockey in the streets of Rocinha----

I would love to put more fotos here of the kids but my connection is so slow that it takes about 10 minutes for each one to internet connection is not so good, at least today..

I had the oportunity to go and live in Canada for a bit and I grew to love hockey. Its a very special sport. Canadians passion for hockey is much like what Brazilians have for football (soccer). When I returned to the favela, I brought some hockey sticks back as I thought it would be fun to teach a little street hockey to the kids. Kids are very open minded here and after seeing the Olympic games here on the televisions in the favela, I knew people would like my idea.

I started getting interest after walking through the favela few times just with a stick and ball. Kids would come to me and ask to "try". So, I would give them the stick and show them how to hold it and how to use the ball. They enjoyed it but everytime I would pass by this area the kids would ask about hockey and the sticks and when they could play. I told them that I needed to get more sticks and that I would try to get some.

I have 5 hockey sticks and now about 70 street hockey balls thanks to one visitor from New Zealand, RICHARD HARRI. He has visited my favela twice and this last time he returned with a bag full of these balls. Now I have to get sticks and nets..I decided to post these fotos also to thank the person who Richard purchased these balls from. They will be put to good use as soon as we can get these kids sticks.

I will let you know how it turns out..

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Exchange student: Samantinha

foto: Sam and good friend Amy

- Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Samantha, and I am from Los Angeles, CA.

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I came to Brazil to study abroad through my college. I studied for a year at PUC-Rio.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I lived with a host family I was placed with in Sao Conrado for the first 6 months.

- How did you find out about favelas?

I found out about Rocinha through a friend I was studying with. She told me about how her brother taught English in Rocinha at Instituto Dois Irmaos (i2i), and then arranged a tour with Zezinho to look around before we started teaching.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

I decided to move to Rocinha because I was paying a lot of money to live in a room, and I wanted more freedom to have people over. I was also already there a lot. I went to the gym there, taught there, and most of my friends lived there.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

Before moving to Brazil, nothing much. I had heard about them, but also heard that they were extremely dangerous.

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

Yes, I can only speak for Rocinha, because I haven't spent much time in other Favelas, but Rocinha was a huge city, but felt safer to me than Copacabana.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I liked that I could be close to all of my friends, and pay less than other places in Zona Sul to live by myself. And I liked being close to the beach and to my school.

- What don’t you like?

Living in Rocinha as a Gringo(a) is very different from being raised there. I had a very privileged life there. I could leave if I wanted to or stay. It is not as easy for people who live there. They are judged differently than I would be for living in a Favela.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

The fact that the children and adults who live in Rocinha don't have the social mobility or options that other classes in Rio do.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?

Yes, I enjoyed teaching and living there. I am moving back to Rio in september!

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?

That you should maybe check it out and see if that is the pace of life you would like to live in before you make the move.

- Would you come back to live here again?

I plan to live in Rio with my boyfriend and so I am not moving back to Rocinha. But it was great for that period of my time in Rio.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?

It is a complex community, full of good and more complicated aspects, and residents that deserve the same level of respect as all other members of Rio.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Introducing Shelly Steffler

Shelly (left) with friend Vera Vetter at the top of Rocinha

- Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Shelly, and I'm from a small town in Canada near Toronto.

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I came to Brasil to do an internship in Human Resources with one of the biggest companies in the country.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I arrived in August 2010 and spent the first month and a half in a hotel in Copacabana. Afterwards, I moved to Barra (a very wealthy, American-style suburb not far from Rocinha) to be closer to work.

- How did you find out about favelas?

I knew about favelas from watc City of God, but one of my coworkers from Canada was really interested in them and invited me to do a tour of Rocinha with Zezinho. I was really nervous, and wanted to leave my backpack at work - my friend told me 'Shelly, if this backpack was full of gold, I'd feel fine walking with it in Rocinha.'

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

Zezinho introduced me to people in the community while we were on the tour, and because they knew I was so interested in volunteering, they offered to show me around again. I started teaching English and making friends, and soon, I was spending most of my free time in Rocinha.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I was living in Rio for a few months before I moved to Rocinha, so I knew that favelas didn't deserve the generic 'they're dangerous! Don't go!' warnings that many Brazilians tend to give. I knew they had a rich cultural life and lots of activity, and that most people were not involved with the drug trafficking.

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

I thought there would be a lot more fear, but people talk openly about the problems related to drug trafficers and take police invasions in stride. I initially didn't wander far from the main road, so I thought that people in Rocinha were fairly well-off. I've since been to the poorest areas of the favela, and I now know that quality of life varies a lot.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I like that there's always someone to talk to, and that it really is a community - people know their neighbours. I like that people are honest and real.

- What don’t you like?

No one likes the garbage! But in addition to that, I don't like that kids, in particular, are exposed to drugs and violence, and that there are so few opportunities for people from favelas.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

Although there are many people from Rocinha getting busaries and going to school, running engaging projects, and trying to better themselves, I feel like there's a bit of a culture of apathy in Rio in general - for example, the politians are all corrupt, so it doesn't matter who you vote for. There might not be a lot of opportunities, but there are some, and people don't always take advantage of them.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?

One of the best of my life!

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?

Learn some Portuguese before you go!! Be prepared for annoyances - your cell phone might or might not work, your water might run out, and you'll probably need to lug gas for your stove to your house. Oh, and buy bottled water - lots of Brazilians drink from the tap, but our stomachs aren't used to their water.

- Would you come back to live here again?


- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?

Don't pass up an opportunity!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Christian Dugdale's Rocinha Experience

Christian on my Roof top in Rocinha

Christian had contacted me sometime ago about wanting to live in Rocinha. He had been working in other favelas as a volunteer so living here would not be a shock to him. I am so happy that he has written so much about his experience here in Rocinha. I know he misses Rocinha very much and tells me often how he wants to return here to stay. Rocinha does that to people. Rocinha is like a mother that cares for its young. And I dont know why but foreigners come with no prejudice and get the most out of learning about the culture and life here in the favela. Enjoy!!

- Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

Christian Dugdale. I'm from Britain.

- Why did you come to Brasil?

It was my dream to visit Rio de Janeiro. Then I visited, and decided I had to go back for longer. I spent 15 years daydreaming about Rio before I went.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I initally stayed with a friend's parent in Botafogo.

- How did you find out about favelas?

I first saw a favela on television when I was about 11, on a British TV programme called Network 7. It was amazing to see a vertical city on the side of a mountain. I remember that I was immediately fascinated by what I saw.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

I actually ran short of money after deciding to extend my stay from 3 to 6 months in Rio. I moved because I couldn't afford Copacabana anymore. I was happy to be doing it though, I had spent time in other favelas and enjoyed it.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I'd done all the research I possibly could because I was so interested in favelas and Rio in general. So I did have a pretty good idea of what it was like, but it would be arrogant to say that I knew what living there was like. That wouldn't be entirely true.

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

I guess so. I mean, I came into the experience with an open mind hoping to enjoy it, so it wasn't like I arrived a skeptic and went home a convert. I was amazed by how much I enjoyed day to day favela culture and just being there though. I knew I would find it interesting, but I was genuinely gutted when I had to leave. Rocinha became my favourite place in the city. I hadn't expected that.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I love the fact that the favela is about human interaction, that you really get involved in a world that is different to your own. It's a place where you see the bare bones of humanity, for all of its faults and all of its positives. Just watching people, talking to people and being in a place that was so vibrant. I often used to think to myself "I'm alive, I'm alive " over and over again as I walked around. I don't know if that sounds either stupid or pretentious but it's true.

There may be a distinction between Rocinha and other favelas here, because Rocinha does seem to be a fast moving place than some of the others I visited. Some of them are sleepier and quietier than you'd think. Also, just like that little boy who saw TV all those years ago, I couldn't get over the aesthetic of the place. The impossible Escher drawing stairways, the vertically stacked houses, the views of Rio, the winding roads, the sight of the lights of ten thousand houses lit up at night like a beautiful constellation of stars. My breath was taken away so frequently I could hardly breath some days. I loved the way people danced and congregated in stairways at nights. The baile funk parties and the whole culture that surrounded the music, the way that once you were accepted that people really took you under their wing. The look on children's faces when you told them that you came from another country and the way they wanted to ask you a million questions about it. I mean there's a million more things, but that's what comes to mind to start with.

- What don’t you like?

I understand that people don't like the police in the favela. If I was them I wouldn't either. However, the absence of an honest and effective police service does not mean that having de-facto armed dictatorship running your community is a good thing. It isn't. I think its a tragedy that so many kids in Rio in an environment where guns are normal. Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to come up with the solution to this issue. I can only criticise. That's not perfect I know.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

As I've just said, I wish the favela could be a place free of guns. I wish it could be a place where everyone in Rio, especially cariocas, would want to visit. Finally, I wish something could be done quickly to improve sanitation for residents there.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?

Quite simply, living in Rocinha is the best thing I've ever done in my whole life. I want to live in Rio, and if I get my way I will in the future. I would love to live in Rocinha again. It's absolutely freaking brilliant despite its problems. BRILLIANT.

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?

Do your research, find a contact in the favela to help you visit and take a look first. Then definitely do it.

- Would you come back to live here again?

Yes x 1000. See above.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?

Rocinha is an extraordinary place. It's not just a slum.It's an amazing city grafted onto the the side of a mountain, with its own culture, music, rhythm, sounds and atmosphere. When you stand on a roof terrace of someone's house in Rocinha at night, you realise that that the rest of the world is missing out on something they think they don't want to see. Look out over the unbelievable sight of the hundreds of houses as they tumble down Rocinha's tropical slopes towards the Atlantic Ocean and tell me you don't feel anything. YOU CAN'T.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Seana in Rocinha

Seana with one of the kids from Rocinha

Its rare when you meet somebody who truely has a love and passion for a place. I remember one of the lasts days before Seana had to leave and it was so sad. I know she did not want to leave Rocinha. As she says, Rocinha stole some of her heart. She fell in love with the place and people and this is not the first time I have heard this. And I know it will not be the last. I know if it came to it, she could easily live here. She made so many friends who ended up like family for her.

I first had contact with her a few years ago when she contacted me about coming to Rocinha for her school project. She was studying funk music from the favelas. I remember sending her some and her interest in Rocinha became stronger. The one day she sent me a email telling me she was coming. It was so nice to put a face to the emails. She is so sweet, kind and always has a smile on her face..

So, now she is RETURNING in the begining of June. So, I will see her again. I know she is soooo happy to be coming back and I look forwards to her return. But heres a interview I did with her. She is sharing her experiences of favela life.



- Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Seana. I am from Florida, U.S.A.

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I came to Brazil because I study Brazilian funk music from the favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I wanted to stay in Rocinha my first trip to Brazil. But I had a difficult time finding housing there without knowing people there. When I arrived, I stayed in a woman’s apartment in Copacabana where a friend of mine was living.

- How did you find out about favelas?

I have studies the social relations that exist in the favelas in Rio for the last 6 years. I found out about them from studying about street children in Brazil.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

I wanted to move to Rocinha because I study the music there and want to be as close as possible. I decided to move to Rocinha because I feel safer there than anywhere else in Brazil. There is a sense of community like I have never felt anywhere else. People are warm and welcoming.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I knew that the favelas are a place where drug traffickers control the communities and police invasions occur. I also knew that there is a lot more to favela life. 

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

They have not changed too much, since I tried to learn as much as possible in the years leading up to my first visit, but I never could have imagined the safety I felt while there or the carinho, or affection that I was shown by the people who live there.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

Everything. Rocinha is the kind of place that steals your heart. When I had to leave Rocinha, I would feel the physical absence, a love sickness perhaps, as if I had left someone behind who should be with me at all times. That feeling has never gone away. Even when I had to return to the U.S., my friends claimed that they lost a piece of me to Rocinha.

- What don’t you like?

There is nothing that I do not like about the favela. Life there is what it is. I feel like the benefits of living there outweigh things that might irritate some people. Water use that cuts the power, cold showers, or dog feces in the alleys. 

-If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

I would change the amount of violence people suffer—the (police) raids, the strip searches, etc.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?

Learn about the culture of the favela and learn to respect it. Being in a favela is not about having an exciting time living in a “dangerous,” “poor,” or “violent” community. It is not something to do to have a story to tell. I believe it is a place where people should live if they are knowledgeable about the culture and respect that exists in the community. They should be willing to learn about and participate in this culture in the same manner that a favela community member would.

- Would you come back to live here again?



Friday, April 22, 2011

Foreigners living in Rocinha

Foto: Gary at the top of Rocinha in a area called Roupa Suja.

Spotlight: Gary from Seattle, Washington, USA

I have always thought that one of the best documentries would be someone who could film about foreigners lives here in the favela. The average Brazilian is so fearful of anything when you mention the word favela. But foreigners come with a open mind and want to learn.

The media here in Brasil, especially Rio, has destroyed the image of favela. Making the place out to be a horrible place where theives, vagabonds, drug dealers and anything else bad you can think of lives. If this is real then why would a foreigner chose to live in this type of place? Maybe because they know that the news media exagerates and only bad news sells.

So, I will be posting interviews with many foreigners who have or currently live here. All the answers they give are their own and I will not censure anything.


Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Gary Carrier and I am from Seattle, WA USA

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I came to Brazil as an extended journey across Latin America (a land that has fascinated me since childhood) after college to work, volunteer and better my language skills. While researching volunteer opportunities in favelas I came across an organization that operates in Rocinha and was in need of volunteers.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I lived in a 'volunteer house' dedicated to this particular organization's volunteers. The house belongs to the Marinho family and they rent an apartment located on the first level of their home to volunteers. The apartment has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

- How did you find out about favelas?

Slum communities exist all over the globe, but Brazil's (especially Rio de Janeiro's) seem to be the most noted on an international level. Perhaps this stems from Rio's already famous international image, and the hundreds of favelas cannot be ignored and are inevitably incorporated in this image. I think the film 'City of God' gave Rio's favelas a lot of international attention, and it wasn't positive. However, it provokes interest, which leads to research, which leads to the truth.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

I decided to move into Rocinha for a few reasons. First, being to volunteer my time and help to teach foreign languages to people who have little or no access to the overpriced language schools of the city. This classist language accessibility only further pushes low income peoples deeper into poverty and away from opportunities for economic/social prosperity. Secondly, the 'dangers' of such places are what detour but ironically interest people in them. After having been warmly welcomed and embraced for my work in slum communities of Mexico, El Salvador, and Colombia, I wanted to prove that the stigma of Rio's favelas is perpetuated by restrictively negative reportage by news agencies. Nationally and internationally, these reports shape public opinion of Rio's favelas. I wanted to see for myself what this place was like and to prove to others that it really isn't a dangerous place.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I knew nothing. What I was told is that they're dangerous, full of gangsters with guns, dirty, and infested with drugs.

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

Yes of course. However, I didn't come here with prejudices of Rocinha. I was aware of what I was told and warned of, but I didn't have prior judgements because my impressions didn't really spawn until I had settled in to this environment. I am young, but I have learned that most of what you hear on the news is B.S. If I lived my life according to the news I would not have had some of the best experiences of my life.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I like feeling part of a community. I have always valued that. Rocinha feels like a small town, where people know each other, but at the same time you are in a city of roughly 10 million people. You have the connection of a 'small town' while simultaneously having access to the luxuries of a city. It's really a great combination. Having the beach in walking distance isn't a bad thing either!

- What don’t you like?

The list of what I do like heavily outweighs that of what I don't. But, like any community, it has its problem. Traffic; there were no civil engineers present to anticipate the growth of Rocinha, thus its narrow roads and curves don't aid the heavy traffic hours. Buses often get stuck, which backs everyone up and can sometime take hours of maneuvering.

I don't like the drugs. Especially when people consume them in public. I think it is especially damaging to the community and to children who pass by as witnesses. I wish the gang would put an end to the public consumption of the drugs they sell.

I suppose many expect me to answer this question with regards to the gang or the trafficking. However, the traffickers have never bothered me and in my time here, appear to be comparatively respectful to the community and its residents. I don't agree with the practice but I am aware it could be much worse. The only issue I have is the disrespect some show towards their women. I have seen them abused on a few occasions and it's disheartening.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

I would improve the infrastructure of the favela. The buildings are poorly constructed, the roads are inadequate for the amount of traffic and open sewers are something that no community should have to witness. In many of the alleyways, stairs are uneven, and I can only imagine how difficult they are to ascend for elderly or disabled residents. If the community's physical appearance was reflective of it's inhabitants, Rocinha would be beyond beautiful.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?


- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?

Go for it! Not only are you constantly learning in this environment, but people are learning from you. As communities that have been neglected for so long by their government and the rest of society, favela residents, consciously or subconsciously recognize the importance of outsiders exploring their communities. After spending a short time here, people begin recognizing that this is a place of beauty, of community, of immigrants from various regions of the country bring their own customs, music, food, etc. and community of good people.

- Would you come back to live here again?

I'm having a hard time leaving. I'm sure that answers the question.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?

What I have discussed here is regarding to Rocinha. My opinions, reflections, and advices are given respective to this community. Rocinha is a very safe favela, but there are favelas here in Rio that even Rocinha residents warn about. Just always be aware, and most importantly, keep an open mind. Doing this I have found what truly makes me happy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tourism Development in favela dos Prazeres

foto: Morro dos Prazeres

My contacts with Prazeres have been existant for a little while with out me knowing..I can not remember the complete details but I can give you a general idea of how things came to be.

I have been working with a small guest house in Santa Teresa called CASA 579. I have always believed in trying to give something back especially when it comes to favelas. Favelas are areas that are under served by the city and goverments. Some favelas like Rocinha get more help becase of their size or notoriety. Prazeres and Julio Otoni (JO) are not like that.

I spoke with the general manager of CASA 579 and we decided on working out how I could contribute specifically with the Julio Otoni Favela since this favela is very close to CASA 579. Many people who stay at CASA 579 also volunteer in Julio Otoni. I was contacted sometime ago by a coordinator Thais Corral, with the Julio Otoni Project which is a comunity center for the youth there.

About a month ago, Charles Sisqueira, who is a dance instructor at Prazeres and afiliated with JO contacted me about wanting to know more about tourism. I was suprised that they wanted me to teach them and help get a program started. Apparently some of the youth, Charles and the residents Association of Prazeres wanted to begin this becase of the interest in the surrounding area of Santa Teresa.

Charles has a dance program in Prazeres called Dança pra Galera no Casarão dos Prazeres since 2002 so he has built good relationships in the community. Through his group have passed 213 youth from ages 8 to 21 years. He is istrumental in keeping programs focused in the community, including The website is under contruction now but will be back soon. was created in 2004 in Prazeres as a learning group for technology. The first few years were focused on bringing internet to the favela. and teaching basic computer classes to the residents. At the end of the first year the group created a book "E Nois" about the daily life in the favelas of Santa Teresa. This took the collaberation of 53 students from neighboring favelas of Prazeres, Falet/Fogueteiro and Coroa. In 2005 this book was selected for the Victor Civita Education award. In the same year Galera was able to advance to visual programming and they created a animation film "Qual e?" a adventure in Morro dos Prazeres. This film took about a year to make with the help of 21 students. Galera has also been involved with the reformation of a library and after school homework clubs that also teach about manners and kindness. Often life in the favelas can be about agression and abuse, so learning good citizenship will help youth in these areas better understand outside the favelas. There is so much this group and Charles have done to give visibility to Prazeres.

So, yesterday I finally got to meet Charles and talk of their idea. With coordination of about 7 people, they want to bring tourism to Prazeres. I have always been a very strong believer in people from the favelas operating their own tours. They wanted my expertise and ideas on what kind of experience they could give to foreigners. I dont like the term "tour".
When I bring in guests to my favela, they will receive a social experience or a favela experience. I think they need to do the same. Education should be the focus of these "tours".

I know the whole tourism in favelas many may not agree with (and I understand both sides of argument) but at least people on the inside who are living in these favelas get to organize and run the tours. This is so much better than the jeep, van tours that come through Rocinha and give little or anything to the comunity. None of the owners of these companies live here in the favela, and in all my passings have only met 2 guides who work for these big companies that live in the favela.

By ignoring favelas or poverty will not make it go away. These comunities need a voice and as long as some of this money they earn is put back into the comunity, then this CAN be a good thing. The tours should be educational, not "come and see some poor people". The favela image has been destroyed in the media. People here are tired of outsiders seeing their comunities as only a place of thieves, bandits, drunks, addicts, poverty, and any other negative thing you can think of..people in favelas deserve so much more.

I met Charles in Copacabana and off we went to Prazeres. He explained to me beforehand that this tourism idea will also include the much smaller Julio Otoni favela as well. We walked into the community and I met some of the group from One of the guys Jacson came with us as we walked through the favela. We met many people and told them of our idea. Everybody seems supportive.

We decended to the bottom of Prazeres and sat and exchanged ideas. We were joined at a table by Saulo Nicolai, Davi Vitor and Diogenes Santos Lima. All of these young people are part of the group. Some speak some English. I am not sure what level of English they spoke becase we only conversed in Portugues. But I did advise them that if doing tours in English, you need be proficent enough to answer any and all questions your guests ask.

foto: The gang of Prazeres 100% FAVELA!! left to right, Saulo, Davi, Zezinho, Charles and Diogenes

I explained a basic outline of how I work in Rocinha to give visitors a "favela experience". Respect and support of the residents is needed to make this happen. I emphasized to them the importance of being organized, being prepared. Visitors want to know about physical infrastructure, politics, sports, culture, music, education, health, land rights, employment, and many of other things. It is the responsibility of the guide to know just about everything about the comunity they live in. If they dont know, then they have to find out by talking to elders, political people in the comunity etc. Marketing their service using pamphlets, flyers, business cards and talking to all the hostels and guest houses in Santa Teresa will help them. Any event in Santa Teresa they need to be there promoting their work. Their project will work if they can put some of the money earned into the film making classes or any other new developments that is involved with now.

This was my first "consulting" job. I hope it is not the last. Maybe the city of Rio can hire me to be a "Favela Tourism" specialist. But for now, working to help other favelas earn a self sustaining income is very rewarding and I hope I can help other favela too!

If you are interested in knowing more about the Tourism Project in Morro dos Prazeres in Santa Teresa, please contact
Charles Sisqueira at: or Saulo Nicolai at: Saulo also has a Blog about things going on in Prazeres, go here:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Makes a Community!

foto: Gary with the favela Rocinha in the background

I am reposting this from a friends Blog becase I really like the way he describes the place I live, that is Rocinha. Gary Carrier, from Washington State in the USA has been living here in Rocinha almost 1 year now and here are his thoughts on what makes a community! Thank you for putting in words something that I could not!


Every once in a while, one of our senses catches familiarity with something that has been long abandoned or forgotten in the pages of our memory. In the same way a certain experience (or span of experiences) can be entombed in a song, we subconsciously embed our experiences in the sights, sounds, and smells of the respective environment in which they are being formed. I experienced this response yesterday and it took me back to my first weeks here in Rocinha. "Caralho..." I said to myself, marveling at the fact that I have been living here for seven months now, "I can't believe how much I've learned, grown, and become engrained into the network of this community". There are few things that I like more than sharing a sense of community, and after seven months here, a speechless stroll down the street has become welcomely replaced by conversation breaks with friends. A community connection is vital for society as a whole, and equally as important for us individually. It creates a sense of connectedness, self-worth, and kinship between its inhabitants. My walk down the hill and to the beach I swear, increases by fifteen minutes every month. But I love it. I love it more than having a car that could jet me there in minutes. It's this walk that reminds me everyday how important community is, and how important it is that we continue to stay connected with one another. I'm not just speaking of 'staying in touch', but of something grander. Locally owned businesses, community involvement, knowing your neighbors, locally grown food, support and participation in city politics, etc. These attributes are what truly create the fabric to which we refer to as community. It is through this connection that we are powerful, that we have voice, that we can be truly represented.. When did we stop borrowing sugar or a cup of milk from our neighbors? More importantly, why?

I come to the bottom of the hill, the end of Rocinha (or the beginning rather) and its adjacency to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, São Conrado, never ceases to bewilder me. My pace is slow and unhurried, something I've adopted from Latin America. I venture closer to the beach and the giant, luxurious condos equipped with private parks, gated entries with security guards, and even a 'community' golf course, implore my attention. Their residents give a polite wave to the security guard from their tightly sealed vehicles, and enter yet another gate, giving them access to the building before making their way to the elevator and to the 'safety' of their condos. Protection. It's what you paid for right? Protection from this crime ridden, drug infested favela that has uninvitedly situated itself next to your paradise? Protection. From what, from the same danger-zone that this pale, light eyed gringo just leisurely strolled through? Fear has caused these people to live in isolation, to replace community with electric gates and security guards that won't protect you in the way that a community will. Is Rocinha a scary place for outsiders who know nothing of it other than what the media tells them? Yes. Is isolating yourself and diminishing your political voice to a hymn going to make it any less scary? No.

If we never sacrifice our vulnerability, how do we ever expect to grow? I am the person I am today because I have subjected myself to risk, to failure, to dangerous environments, to the 'unknown', and I've conquered them all. I've come closer to realizing what I cherish, what's important to me, what I want out of my life, where I'm going and why. I took a different path, and it's made all the difference. Society's idea for me; to slave away the rest of my life so I can buy a poorly made, vinyl-sided house in a featureless subdivision, fighting it out with everyone else to prove how much I have and how good of a consumer I am has long been out of my consideration. Living in this favela leaves me wondering...why are we so afraid of ourselves? Why do we work so hard to further ourselves from each other? Why is it I rarely see anyone outside in the wealthiest neighborhoods, but slum communities like Rocinha are bustling with life, day and night? I think it is time for people to open their doors again, to go to your neighbors and meet them, and create communities again, because as long as we are separated, we are powerless. The world really isn't that scary.


To read more of Gary's Blog, please go here:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tenho orgulho de ser brasileiro e americano

here is a foto of me with both american and brazilian passports...I have pride to be both and never deny this fact.

I need to say this to the trouble makers out there. I have NEVER tried to hide the fact of my origin, birthplace or my parents. I was born in Brasil. Rio, to be exact at Miguel Couto Hospital in Gavea. My mother is from New York City and my father is from Rocinha (born in Fortaleza, Ceara). So, yes I am proud to both brazilian AND american. And anyone who says diferent does not know me or is just trying to stir troubles. I have been fortunate to live in both the USA and Canada. But returned to Rocinha becase my father got sick and this place is my roots. Unfortunately, there is lots of jealousy here in Brazil. And some people will say anything to try to put down others they dont understand or discredit them. I have suffered this prejudice before.

I have already found out the sources of some of the people and it is becase we work in the same profession and they have jealousy. They would rather make a rumour about me than try to get to know me better and KNOW the truth. I have deleted these backstabbers from my networks. I want to work and support people whos intentions are to help others not being selfish. I want to surround myself with good Karma, not negative jealous people!

Please before you judge me, get to know the facts and dont believe everything some person tells you. Do your research as the truth can be found!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Kids in the favelas

Below is a set of questions from a student wanting to know more about kids and youth in the favelas..I will try an attempt to answer this students questions..


My name is..... I recently graduated from Brigham Young University and am working on a research paper about children and youth in the favelas. I have found a lot of "scholarly" essays on the topic but was hoping you could give me a more realistic, down to earth point of view on what life is like. I have read a few of your entries on which have been helpful but was hoping to ask a few other questions. If you have a few minutes to answer them I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,

1. What activities/fun things are there in the favelas for children and youth?

I can only talk about Rocinha favela where I live. Other favelas have diferent programs of diferent levels of help from NGO's, comunity or goverment support.

In Rocinha we now have the Rocinha Sports Complex at the bottom of the favela that has many sports activities. From what I have seen, there is boxing, capoeira, judo, jiu jitsu, volleyball, indoor football, basketball, swimming, a surf school, and outdoor football. There might be other programs but these are the ones I know about. There are other programs as well. We have a music school both inside the favela and another just outside Rocinha. We have a few art schools, one at the top of the hill on Rua 1 (first street) and Tio Lino's Mundo de Arte at the bottom of the hill. I know there is a ballet school and of course we have our samba school. The Varandao has dance classes like ballroom, salsa and samba. THis is all my mind can think of right now. The majority, if not all of these programs are only open to kids who are enrolled in school and making passing grades.

2. How many of the children attend school? Are there schools in the favelas or do they attend school in the city?

I am not sure of the percentages as I am no expert in this. Children are suppost to be in school until 15 years but many do quit for many reasons. We have four public schools in the favela. Many students are also bused outside the favela to attend school.

3. Do many of the children/youth work? What kind of jobs do they take? Do their jobs keep them from attending school?

Some kids do work and go to school. I have seen kids go to school then return home and are seen working in a store with their parents at night. There is a 9 years old boy working in the supermarket across from my house. It is now almost 7:30 at night and he is still working.

4. What are the main obstacles the youth face in changing their situation?

Opportunity. Many youth don't see a improvement in their life from going to school. They think short term, not long term. Many teens want money, clothing and by going to school they dont see value in this. Also their parents may have little education and force them to work to help support the family for basic needs.

5. Are there many programs, charities, organizations, etc. present in the favelas to help children and youth? What kind of programs are they? Are they effective?

There are some but certainly not enough. Many of the organizations sad to say are corrupt with individuals who only help themselves and give very little back to the comunity. There are some day cares for smaller children. Tio Lino runs a after school club. We had a great program up and running a few years back but due to embezlement of funds has since closed down and the sadness is the kids and youth loose out to adult greed..the programs can be effective if the kids stay in them. I work with a art school and we have saved about 45 kids from the drug trade..

6. How are children affected by the presence of the drug gangs?

The kids who enter the drug trade are doing it for money and status. Most of them come from absent or addict parents. It is a problem. We definately do need more afterschool programs, recreation space and activities here for our kids. I think the kids see the drug guys as power figures becase they have money and do what they want. Every kids wants nice shoes and clothes. They see the drug trade as a easy way to get those things. The sad thing is when I see some of these kids in the streets with toy guns and immitating the drug guys.

7. What has the government done to help children in the favelas?

The goverment is not much help. It is as if they prefer watching the favela destroy itself. We have many people who are talented here who just need the right oportunity. The goverment is and did start the PAC project to help improve things in the favelas. We receved a new sports, complex, a hospital, community center, and rua 4 was opened up and 200 new units of housing was built. This is great improvements, but new housing doesnt equal the destruction of prejudice that we in favelas fave from the outside. There is still the stigma of living in a favela and I have many friends who would never tell anybody from the outside where they live. We need to de-stigmatize the favela as only being a place of negative things.

8. If there was one thing you could do for these children to help them, what do you think would make the most difference (better schools, better housing, jobs, health care, etc.)?

I think education and activities are the main things needed for our youth. But like kids everywhere, school has to be fun. Teachers need to be able to capture a childs attention and get them interested in learning. I know this is much to ask but our youth is our future and we must nourish them through education and cultural activities. The teens need other options besides drugs and sex. They need leadership programs or for the older ones work/study programs in the fields they have interest in. The parents of these kids also have to take better care of their children and offer structure to their lives so the kids wont seek out negative alternatives.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Life in the Favela Pt.2

With all the lifes challenges, I still LOVE living here. We can choose to see the bad or good. I prefer to see the good and positive that lives here. I have always said “It’s not the poorly built houses, but the people that make this place special”. Life is good.

Living here has challenges and I want to put out a special get better wish to my friend Robert and Lilia who have been sick due to Dengue. Get beetr soon!!!

I wanted to continue from Part 1 as some of you want to know more. I have been very fortunate to have people who after reading my blog, come here to see for themselves. I am back now and hope to be able to give updates one a week now that I have formal internet in my house.

Why favelas exist
Favelas exist because of the lack of affordable housing for the poor working class. We do not have public housing or a welfare system that aids poorer people, so favelas are the only option. If Rio wishes for the favelas to go away, they need affordable housing or they need to raise the minimum wage so people have the option to move out of the favelas. I know that I could not afford to live outside a favela. Favelas are not bad places, just places where regular people live who make little money. The majority of people who live here in Rocinha, have no interest in leaving. I am one of those content with my life here. Instead of leaving, I would like to help improve life for people who live here. Leaving? Where would I go? What friends or connections would I have to a new place? Many things to think about.

Work, jobs, job opportunities
Most of the jobs favela resident do are simple type work where education or higher education is not needed. Favela residents are construction workers, domestics, bus drivers, cashiers, hotel and restaurant workers. The job you get decides on many factors, like education, where you live and your race. Brazil does not like to admit this but there is racism here. Rarely do you see Afro-Brazilians in high professional type jobs. The biggest stigma is coming from or living in a favela. I am considered white and to Brazilians considered one who probably has opportunity but becase I live in a favela, my status or class drops. I think more people suffer discrimination because of living in a favela. Because favela residents receive poor education, they are not able to pass the difficult entrance exam (called the Vestibular) to get into university. Only the rich or people who can afford tutors can gain entry for university. There is the odd scholarship but it is rare for favela resident to get into university. The guy on the beach selling you water or renting you the beach chair most likely lives in a favela.

Shopping and Commerce
In Rocinha, we have over 6,000 businesses. I love living here because I do not have to leave here for anything. Why? When I can buy everything here? We have three banks here, Bradesco, Itau and Caixa. They are now building a Banco do Brasil as well here. The prices are very cheap or reasonably priced. Every Saturday the nightclub Emocoes (Emotions) located close to the entrance of the favela, opens up a shopping market. It is mostly clothes and shoes but other things can be bought there as well. On Sunday we have the Feira Nordestina located in Largo do Boiadeiro. This is a true Brazilian cultural fair as you can but fruits, vegetables, meat and everything, even a screw driver! There are also the “Repentistas” who sing or “insult” each other through song. But it’s all in fun. I often receive tourists who would prefer shop in Rocinha not only because the prices are cheaper but also because the want to support the favela economy. Most of the commerce is located down at the bottom of the hill.

We have a water resource high deep in the forest of a area called “Laboriaux”. It is a fresh water spring that people can drink the water from. When the water is pumped from there through the pipes to people homes in the favela, minerals build up in the pipes and the water is not good to drink. Most people here drink bottled water. Where I live, I get water pumped into my tank once a week, so conservation of water is important. Water is free and the government built a pumping station at the top of Rua 1 for the residents. I think it is important responsibility to conserve water.

Most people pay for electricity but of course you will always have those people who have “gatos” or illegal hook ups to the grid. When I was a kid, it was all illegal but now we have a formal company called “LIGHT” which is a Brazilian/Canadian company which provides formal electricity to about 85% of the residents. I receive a bill every month and I pay between 20 to 50 reais a month depending on how much energy I use.

In Brazil we have a law that if you make under 1200 reais a month you do not pay taxes. Most people who live in Rocinha earn between 600 to 900 reais a month, so they don’t pay income taxes. We do pay taxes on good and services though as this tax is built into the price.

I think most people know that public education in Brazil is poor and even worse for the cities 1.8 million favela residents. Education or real education is for the middle and upper classes. We are educated to the point we can function but it is not common to see professional people coming out of favelas. This is sad becase intelligence has nothing to do with where a person lives. But that intelligence has to be nutured and fed to grow and prosper. Many bright favela people will never amount to anything more than a common service worker becase they do not have access to quality education. And becase the minimum salary is low many kids have to leave school and work to help support their families. It is common in Rocinha to see a 12 or 13 year old kid giving you back change in a store. These kids should be in school but many see the lack of opportunities becase the education prepares them for a bleak future, so why waste the time with this. There are some scholarships, but they are rare. I have a friend who was lucky. He is a architect but he and his friends in order to get better job opportunities are renting a place outside the favela. He can not even tell outsiders the truth about where he lives. This is sad. It is common that many employers will not hire favela people.

***If any of you readers want information about a specific thing regarding to favela life or Rocinha, please email me what you would like to read here. My email is: